Door-knocker bill goes too far, says HRAI

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Door-to-door fraudsters continue to plague Ontario homeowners despite changes to the Ontario Consumer Protection Act, but a private members bill introduced in the Ontario Legislature would make it almost impossible for plumbing and HVAC contractors to do business.

Bill 193, the Door-to-Door Sales Prohibition Act, would ban all “direct contracts” (including agreements signed in homes) whether or not they were initiated at the door, including those where a customer calls in a contractor.  This would significantly restrict the typical and legitimate sales process used by HVAC (and other) contractors, forcing contracts to be signed at a “retail location,” reported Martin Luymes, director, programs and relations for the Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada.

Any contract signed in the home would be deemed to be void and penalties for contravening the law would range from $500 to $2,000 for individual salespersons and $5,000 to $25,000 for companies that employ them.

Introduced by Liberal back-bencher Yvan Baker, the bill passed second reading on June 9. It was drafted, said Baker, as a means for addressing complaints he was hearing from his constituents in Etobicoke Centre, particularly seniors, about being duped into a dubious purchase.  The bill goes after specific products – “air conditioners, water heaters, furnaces, water treatment devices” – but also gives the government the right to add other products as necessary.

Associations working to get changes

Working with the Canadian Water Quality Association and the Canadian Institute of Plumbing and Heating, HRAI met with Baker on June 1 to offer qualified support for his initiative, but also to let him know that this bill could only be supported if there were key changes to the wording. 

In that meeting, Baker admitted that the language in the bill is based on the only legal “hook” that the government could find to get at the problem – the “direct contract.”  Proving what happened at the doorstep in a court of law can be tricky, he stated. For example, if the homeowner invites the salesperson in, is that evidence of them initiating the process? The only clear indicator of an actual sale (fraudulent or otherwise) is a signed contract.

Alternative mechanisms proposed

HRAI proposed alternative mechanisms for tackling the problem, such as targeted consumer education and possibly registering/licensing of all itinerant salespersons or organizations. 

Baker provided assurances that an all-party committee studying the bill will be open to industry input.  He also accepted the offer of a meeting with HRAI members to discuss alternative methods for solving the problem.

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